The Yankees are in a bind when it comes to starting pitching. You could argue it is a self-inflicted bind: it was a common refrain throughout the offseason that the Yankees could probably use some more pitching depth, and now, they are left undermanned with Jordan Montgomery and Masahiro Tanaka on the disabled list.
Domingo German has done his best to fill Montgomery’s shoes, and tomorrow night, the Yankees are turning to another inexperienced arm in Jonathan Loaisiga. Inexperienced might be understating things, as not only has Loaisiga not played at the Triple-A level, but he has made merely six starts at Double-A. He began the year as a 23-year-old in High-A.
Loaisiga has at least been good this year, posting a 3.00 ERA in ten starts along with a sensational 58/4 K/BB ratio. Still, Loaisiga’s lack of experience is glaring. To turn to a starter who has barely progressed from A-Ball in the thick of what’s turning out to be the league’s hottest pennant race just seems a little crazy.
Jason wrote as much here this week, and I pretty much agree with him: this move looks a little bit nuts, and the Yankees might be better served calling someone with more of a track record (and/or just acquiring an arm from outside the organization). But the Yankees are the New York-based baseball team that isn’t actually insane, so there must be some reason they chose Loaisiga. There must be some method to the madness.
What could the reason be? It is, of course, impossible to tell what the team’s internal machinations were here, but we can guess. From the outside, we have public projection systems, and they do supposedly map pretty well with team’s proprietary systems. Maybe Loaisiga looks good according to the projections, and if so, he probably looks similarly good according to the Yankees’ forecasts.
In fact, Loaisiga does profile nicely per FanGraphs’ Steamer projections. Here’s how he stacks up against the Yankees’ other primary options to slot into the rotation:
Yankees’ Pitching Depth Projections
|Player||Proj. ERA||Proj. FIP|
|Player||Proj. ERA||Proj. FIP|
If the Yankees’ projections are similar to these, then we have a plausible reason as to why they’ve chosen Loaisiga. They may have just looked at their forecasts and saw that Loaisiga looked best. Going strictly off the spreadsheet, though, has its dangers. The Yankees in all likelihood would factor in more than just the projected numbers in making their decision.
They would surely factor simply how Loaisiga looks in games, and in fairness, the scouting reports do sound pretty promising. Before the season, FanGraphs estimated that both Loaisiga’s fastball, which can sit mid-90’s, and his curveball were above average pitches at present, with room for more. His changeup also appeared functional as well.
ESPN’s Keith Law (Insider $) had similar things to say just a month ago, positing that all three of Loaisiga’s primary pitches were average or better at present. MLB Pipeline also graded all of Loaisiga’s pitches as average or better, and issued him an average control grade. So, it appears that some of the public’s premier scouting voices have positive views of Loaisiga’s pure stuff at the moment.
If the Yankees are in agreement that Loaisiga has pretty strong pure stuff, enough above average pitches to outweigh his lack of polish (and likely subsequent sub-par command), then Loaisiga’s promotion starts to make more sense. They could be right, and Loaisiga’s raw skill might be enough to get hitters out.
There could be myriad other mostly invisible reasons the Yankees went with Loaisiga. The Yankees are an analytically savvy team, and could have seen something in their proprietary numbers, whether it be spin rate, pitch tunnels, effective velocity, etc. that indicated to them that Loaisiga had a good shot of holding his own in the majors. Loaisiga could have excellent makeup, and the Yankees might believe he can handle such an aggressive promotion.
At the end of the day, Loaisiga is still a pitcher with hardly any track record. It’s very easy to envision this all going sideways quickly, and personally, I still think it’s an overly aggressive move. That being said, it does appear that there are plausible reasons for promoting him. The Yankees aren’t dumb, and they surely possess what they have deemed to be valid reasons for giving Loaisiga a shot. Even if he fails, it might just be a one-off spot start anyway.
Regardless, the fact that Loaisiga is making the majors at all is a pretty positive sign on its own. He was picked off the scrap heap a few years ago, and has turned himself into a legitimate prospect who just might stick as a starter. That’s a testament to the Yankees’ scouting, player development, and to Loaisiga himself. Even if the Yankees really are going crazy here and he gets bombed in his debut, Loaisiga is a name to watch going forward.